Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cruise V

New Years Eve! The ship has tons of parties planned, and lots of things going on for the New Year. We have dinner reservations at the steak restaurant on board (in addition to the two main dining halls, which have a set menu, there are two speciality restaurants on board, a steak house and an italian restaurant).

But first, off to Grand Cayman. Our ship got the short straw, and had the furthest out anchor point, but they started transferring people to shore by 7:15. We were up and out the door not much after, and caught a taxi to the public beach access on Seven Mile Beach -- a long strip of soft, white sand beach on the western part of the island. IT's lined with hotels and resorts, but there are still lovely public beach areas. We snapped up beach chairs and umbrellas (which can be a bit spendy!) and sprayed each other down with sunscreen.

The water is warm and so clear that you can snorkel in really deep water and still see the fish and rocks below. We hung a little closer to shore, just floating aimlessly in the water and watching Peter do his fish impressions. Jenna even clambered down into the water (although we had to give her a hand getting back up into the beach).


We spent maybe four and a half hours on the beach, but then the Adorable Husband had a massage appointment, so we all stuck together and headed back to the tenders and back to the boat. Jenna and Nin wanted to shop a bit, but with all the sun we couldn't summon enough energy to even try. It was enough to just walk back to the pier and we were dozing off on the ride back.

We all got dressed up in our fancy clothes and met in Dad and Pat's suite for champagne before heading down to dinner. Which was fantastic. The scalloped potatoes were addictive and dangerous, and followed great steaks and wine and a lovely bottle of Veuve Clicquot. But it was the chocolate dessert that nearly did us in. We fairly waddled from the restaurant. The Adorable Husband had five desserts. Well, bits of five of them. Even he couldn't finish!

We surrendered and were in bed before midnight. Hah!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cruise IV

Jamaica is lovely -- green and hilly and beautiful. And touristy, of course. The ship docks at the main port in Ochos Rios and once we get off the ship, it's tourist city. Quite literally -- they have built a "village shopping" area just off the pier that is geared towards tourists shopping and effectively buffers you from the actual people and city. Jenna and Michael hired a cab for a ride around town, and headed off immediately while the rest of us waited for one of the excursions to go off and meet dolphins and see Dunn's Falls. This is one of the most popular things to do while onshore for the day. Pat and Mark and Nicole and Peter got into the water to learn about dolphins and get a kiss and touch them (although they didn't get to swim with the dolphins on this outing - Pat started out with the most conservative option, since Peter is often a bit anxious about these things. It was a lot of fun, if a bit disorganized. My dad came along, but it was too much walking through the nature park to the beach, and he and Pat went back to the boat after they were done.

We stayed back with Nin and Peter and had lunch, then took the shuttle to the waterfall. One of the options is to climb the falls -- everyone links hands and snakes their way up the 700 foot falls, scrambling up the rocks and through the different terraces. It's not as easy as it is made out to be, actually -- we were a bit boggled that it was allowed, actually. There is no way that anything like this would be allowed in the states, period. But, if you have a good group and everyone works together, it's easy enough to get up the rocks. I, however, am a klutz, and after slipping once and falling on my butt (because the guy in front of me let go when I tried to scramble up, and then bashing my head not once, but twice, on the concrete bridge, I bailed out about halfway up, along with a bunch of other people. They said that the hard part was already done, but I'm still sporting a half-dozen bruises from the climb, so I'm not so sure! Mark and Peter, though, toughed it out and made it all the way up! Nin was very concerned that Peter had been scared or freaked out, but he was just fine with Mark and did a great job. You really, really need good, solid, rubber-soled shoes for this one. And a waterproof camera!


We were all soaked and sunburned and ready to go back to the ship, and we caught one of the last busses back to the pier. I have a goose-egg on my forehead, which is sunburned. Wah!

There is a huge age range on this cruise - lots of kids (600!), lots of older people. Apparently the average age of the cruise goes up dramatically after the holidays. Princess is not a "party" cruise, like some of the other cruise lines, and the passengers tend to be older. There are tons of activities for kids, though. One thing thatI have noticed, though, is that there is a (hopefully) small group of cruise passengers who are just rude. They don't say please or thank you, they don't even make eye contact with the many staff on board, they just order them around as if they are somehow beneath notice. It's kind of weird. Yes, I know the staff is there to serve, but barking, "water!" at a waiter without bothering to look up and just shaking your glass while continuing your conversation with someone else is just rude. Snapping orders at people, or expecting them to read minds to bring what you wanted, and not what you asked for, is out of line in my book. I was raised to ask for things, not demand them, even when they will be delivered without question. "Yes, please, if you could bring me a glass of diet coke, that'd be great!" is a much nicer answer to 'can I get you a drink?' than "diet coke!" accompanied by an airy wave of the hand.

I wonder if it's the "all inclusive" part of the cruise concept that breeds this. You pay quite a bit of money to be waited on hand and foot, perhaps some few people take it a bit too seriously and think that they are entitled to instant, complete gratification of all their demands. I don't know.

The cruise also has a pretty loose dress code, too. Some cruises have many "formal" nights, and the rest of the time everyone still dresses in snazzy clothes. We have two formal nights -- which means that suits and dresses are worn to dinner, but the rest of the time is casual. Dinner is always a bit more dressy than daytime, but a pair of khakis is more than enough. YOu can't wear your bathing suit into the dining halls, and they frown on jeans or shorts. But everything else is fair game. The Adorable Husband complained that hti sis the first time he's been on vacation where he had to bring a suit. But it was fun to see all the people dress up (and some people really dressed up, in sequined evening dresses. Or, in the case of some of the Japanese tour group, in full, formal kimono!

I think I'll limit the days I have to wear high heels on vacation to one or two.

I thought that I packed pretty lightly (at least compared to my sisters -- and after seeing some of the luggage being hauled onto the ship, I am even more boggled). But I realized that I could have packed half what I did and had plenty of clothes to wear. I wish I had another bathing suit -- putting on the suit this mornign was a wee bit clammy -- but could have managed with a couple of t-shirts, a beach coverup, one medium dressy outfit (khakhis and polo shirt) and one dressy outfit (dress). I pretty much wore the same thing every day, and the Adorable Husband wore a swimsuit and t-shirt most days, too. I spent 90% of my waking time in a t-shirt and bathing suit and flip-flops.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cruise III

A day at sea, after yesterday's lovely beach-lounging. We're heading to Jamaica, so we have a day to explore the ship and laze about at one of the many pools. We slept in a bit (we didn't get to bed until 2am after the infirmary excitement), and met everyone at the main pool for drinks and lounging at lunchtime.

The boat is huge. 950 feet long, 165 feet wide, carries up to 4000 passengers and 1200 crew. The Ruby Princess is a new ship (Oct 2008), and it's very comfortable. There is a huge theater (where they have live shows and movies), an enormous video screen on the top deck that shows movies, four pools, three dining rooms, a wine bar and international cafe, library, pub, a couple of nightclubs, a casino, spa, the works. We wandered around poking our noses into things and just enjoying the breeze from the deck. It's nigh on impossible to get a lounger around the pool, but there are plenty of other places to relax and enjoy the sun.

Our room steward is Polish -- his name is Piotrek, and he got everyone's last name right the first time (which is not common if you're not actually polish, too). The crew of the boat hail from all over -- we saw a ton of people from England, Italy, Serbia, Slovakia, Greece, Thailand, the Phillipines, China. Apparently, the jobs on cruise ships are contract gigs, and there is fierce competition to get the slots. Some of the people we talked to were on their sixth or seventh contract - each one is six months long, and they work 12+ hour days most of the time. We often saw the wait staff from one restaurant working elsewhere later in the day -- enough so that we asked if they were just locked in the hold for the few hours they weren't on duty! They have their own quarters and lounges (and even a pool) belowdecks, since htey aren't really allowed to mix with the passengers in their off hours. They have their own crew mess, too, so they don't really get the same food, either. But everyone seemed to really like it (and going for four years at a stretch adds some credence to that claim). Me? Well, I'd be hard pressed to be that pleasant to everyone all the time!

We stopped and got a "soda stamp" -- food is always included on the boat (except for some speciality cafes), but soda, coffee, and any alcohol will cost you. You can buy a stamp up front for 25 bucks that lets you drink soda for free all week. For us, it was a great deal. We drink a lot of diet soda, so it was worthwhile to get. THey have a coffee stamp, too, but that's less of an issue since coffee is included with meals. and you only pay for coffee at other times.

Dinner was excellent - seafood and lamb and steaks. The menu changes every day, and it's worth it to wait for dessert. Michael, my BIL, has it down: order two or three desserts up front to save time!

Despite the number of people on the boat (I think we were near capacity), it never really felt crowded in most places. The pool was always crowded, of course, but we never waited in line or got caught in crowds going to any of the other parts of the ship. Intellectually I know there are some 5000 people on the boat, but it doesn't really seem possible. Dinners are not crowded, the theater was rarely full, even the main plaza seemed open and airy. There are simply so many places for everyone to go that they rarely end up in the same one, I guess. We only aborted our plans once when too many poeple showed up and that was to the movie showing on the upper desk with the huge outdoor screen -- we were a little late and couldn't find a lounge chair free.

The boat rocks a little when underway, but it's almost soothing. I can't imagine that anyone gets seasick on a boat this big, but the doctor last night assured me that many people do. I find the gentle rocking very pleasant, actually.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cruise II

I should point out that I'm posting these retroactively - there was little or no connectivity on the cruise itself, so bear with me!

Sailed all night and by the time we all got up and had breakfast, we were moored outside of Princess Cays - the little island of Elutheria (which is owned by Princess, I am led to understand). A little island with nothing but beaches, watersports, and a little cafe. The tenders to the island started by 8am, and we were on the beach in a couple of sun chairs by 9am and floating serenely in the water a few minutes after that.

I bought a new swim suit for this trip (which I've posted before was quite a fretful and fraught experience), and I was really self-conscious about it. I shouldn't have been. Once I was in the water, we just lounged about and watched everyone else as they basked in the sun or paddled in the water. It was lovely.

My pale, pale, pasty family had to be reminded to reapply sunscreen every hour or so, but most of us managed to avoid getting too much sun on the first day! My dad doesn't do so hot in the sun - he tends to dehydrate quickly, so we spent some time with him up in the cafe so he could get some water while the Husband, Pat, and Jenna rented a little catamaran and went sailing. They were the only boat that didn't have to be towed back in to shore -- everyone else had problems, but the Adorable Husband got the boat back by himself.

We all headed back to nap (again). However, getting up for dinner, the Adorable Husband felt really crappy, and after a few minutes contemplation, realized that he was having another episode of A-Fib and off to the ship's emergency room we went. He's had this this twice before, so he recognized it right away, and the solution is to once again cardiovert him (i.e., shock his heart back into normal rhythm, for the non-medcal among us). They tried to do it with beta blockers first, but when that didn't work, they sedated him and zapped him again. Voila! Eight hours in the ER on the boat, and then he was back to normal. He was fine, although tired, and the next morning was up and going like normal. Way to spend a day of vacation, though! Eek.

I have to comment on dinner, though -- everyone always talks up the food on cruises (all the time! food everywhere! five-star dining!) and they are pretty accurate. Dinner is a lavish and tasty affair, the buffets (which are open 24 hours) are pretty good, if not of the same calibre as dinner service, and there are snack and other yummy things available all over the place. I'm glad I brought stretchy pants.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cruise I

Well, we flew all night, slept fitfully in airports, and arrived in plenty of time to be sequestered in the Princess Cruise Gulag (i.e., the Terminal building, waiting for boarding).

But, we followed the hordes, got our room keys and had our passports checked, and went up to our room to nap until the rest of my family showed up. The room is really nice, and a lot larger than I thought it would be, we aren't cramped at all, and even have tons of closet space! Who knew? We have a lovely balcony and are on the furthest "out" deck on the ship, right over the lifeboats. Nice!

The porters on the pier laughed at us about our luggage when we got it out of the taxi -- I packed a small carry-on-sized LandsEnd bag, and Mark had a suit bag. That's it. We plopped the bags down and the porters sort of squinted at it. "That's your luggage?" Nod. "All your luggage?" Another nod. "Are you sure?" We giggled about it all the way onto the boat.

I crashed like a big crashy thing and slept for two hours or so, before the Adorable Husband returned with ice cream and diet cokes to wake me up so we could see if anyone else had arrived.

We've been trying to fix the flight situation for Nin and Peter for almost two weeks, and have had no luck at all getting different flights -- the cruise line booked her to land at 3:15, and also says that they have to be on the boat by 4. Ridiculous! But - the boat did wait for a bunch of people that were running late because of weather, and she ran up the gangplank at 5:05 and was still there with an hour to spare! One of the security guys at the chekpoint radioed to the terminal to see if they were there yet and the terminal personnel reported taht they had a "couple dozen" people in taxis and on busses on their way to the boat!

So, she made it on time, we all got together in time for dinner, and we're off!

Friday, December 26, 2008

We're Off!

We're off on our vacation to the sunny Caribbean on the ginormous boat!

Actually, we're off in about five hours to the airport for our redeye flight, to arrive in Florida tomorrow morning and boat the Ruby Princess for a seven day cruise.

Should be fun! I'll try to fill in this week, if I have any internet access at all.

Tastes like Chicken

And I shall eat a little crow.

My first attempt to pack for this trip - taking into account the need to swim, cover from the sun, dress up for dinner, and really dress up for at least one night - resulted in a pile of clothing far too large to fit into my rolly carry-on.

Despite my claims that I could pack for months in a carry on, I had to work pretty hard to get the pile down to a reasonable size. And then I remembered that I had to pack a pair of dress shoes. As you may have experienced, these don't squash down much.

Aaargh!

So, I abjectly apologize to my sister for picking on her for packing like a Victorian steamer-trunk traveler. Eek!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Steamer Trunks

Only four days (well, for us, three, since we leave at 1am) until our vacation cruise with my family! We're still trying to resolve issues with my youngest sister's airline ticket, and I'm starting to think about what to pack.

Seven days in the Caribbean. I had to buy a swim suit. I haven't bought a swim suit in twenty years. Do you know how hard it is to find a swim suit that doesn't expose the pale and pasty parts of me that never see the sun? Eek!

At any rate, since YS (Youngest Sister) has a late flight in to the port city, one of the suggestions from the more experienced cruisers is to not check luggage. That is, pack everything in a carry on.

I mentioned this to The Adorable Husband, who laughed uproariously. "Are you kidding? There is NO WAY that she can just pack a carry on. I'm worried that she'll be able to pack in one suitcase!" WHich is exactly the response I got from my sister when I suggested it as a way to save time.

She laughed. And snorted. And laughed again, a little nervously.

There is no way on earth that she can pack for a week in a carry on. Now me? I can pack for a MONTH in a carry one (well, carry-on sized, although I usually check it for long trips). She can't. No one in my family can. These are people who pack three suitcases for a long weekend. She'll pack six pairs of shoes to go to the beach. These are full-size toiletry packing type people. My family would have fit right in with Victorian traveller with four steamer trunks and a host of servants to haul everything around.

No amount of cajoling works. No amount of quite reasonable arguing that she doesn't need forty-leven different outfits works. This is a woman who normally changes clothes a couple of times as day. I suggested that, just perhaps, she could wear the same pair of pants for more than one day, since we weren't doing anything but lounging around.

The Adorable Husband noted wryly that she doesn't wear one pair of pants for even a whole day!

I shouldn't pick on her, really. She's the only one of us that has any sense of style at all, and I have to admit that she does dress well and looks awfully cute. But when travelling, cute and stylish take a back seat to light, easy to pack, and washable! We're on a cruise ship, people -- we can do laundry (or get people to do laundry for us!)

So I propose a wager: she can pack like she usually does, but at the end of the trip, we will publically air out all the things that she hasn't even touched in the suitcase. She's not allowed to make an extra effort to wear everything, but I bet that she doesn't even touch half of what she packs. Hah!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Amateur Hour

With 'It's a Wonderful Life' showing nonstop on some cable channel or the other, reruns of every single Santa clay-mation show, and whole channels of choirs and carols -- it's easy to track the countdown to Christmas.

Easy, too, to identify the season by the variety of "documentaries" that show up on the various history and science channels. Most are interesting, if a bit predictable, and I won't go off on a tangent here on the false basic premise of most of them*. No, My ire here is directed at one specific show: "The Naked Archeologist', with Simcha Jacobovici traveling around the middle east in search of evidence that supports the bible.

Well, not quite. What he's doing is accepting the basic truth of the biblical stories without question and adding a dollop of politics and his opinion that "regular archaeology" is populated by fascists and anti-semites, and that he is fighting the good fight for "biblical archaeology". Archeologists in general treat the bible as fiction, not fact. This is the view supported by the evidence, and represents the view of most scholars. If evidence arises that supports specific stories, then archeologists incorporate that into their theory. But they do not accept the bible as historical fact, preferring to apply actual facts to their work.

No, Jacobovici says, that is just fascism and anti-semitism, and a political attempt to denigrate Judaism and the truth. He compares archeologists who view the bible as literature, not history, as akin to holocaust deniers. "Biblical archeologists", he says, are entirely wrong -- ignoring, of course, that his definition of "biblical archaeology" is completely backwards. He still classifies modern archaeologists who don't accept the historicity of the bible as "biblical archeologists" (a definition that fits his agenda). Wrong. That term belongs to the people who go digging "with the bible in one hand and a spade in the other". i.e., his own approach.
"From a historical aspect, I take the Bible as history, unless someone demonstrates it's not. I have no reason to believe the stories in the Bible didn't happen. He paused, asserting, If you don't think it's true, prove it!"

He argues that some biblical archeologists are motivated by crass politics and a dislike of Jews.
And so he sets off to the primary archaeological sites in the middle east, cheerfully explaining how it all fits together with his somewhat oddball theories. He has further filmed a multi-part show on the Exodus (wherein he argues that it wasn't the Red sea that was parted, but the Reed sea, in a particularly egregious mangling of interpretation, to make his "theory" fit). Scientific findings often challenge religious dogma. He doesn't seem to understand that it's the role of the scientist, the role of the archeologist, to view with a critical eye any claims and view the evidence *before* generating the conclusions. An honest scientist gathers the evidence and sees what the evidence says, a dishonest one interprets the evidence to fit their conclusion. Presenting the latter as equivalent to the actual practice of archeology is simply wrong.

How completely backwards - the goal of archeology is not to "prove false" the bible any more than it is to "prove true" the stories. The two are really unrelated, no matter how much the television shows try to link them this time of year. If the evidence shows that a particular story is plausible or true, so be it. But cherry picking and misusing evidence is the purview of bad science.

I am frustrated that the history channel airs such a show, which is based firmly on the unchallenged premise that the bible is historically accurate and every further assertion simply accepts this as true.

I am further frustrated to realize that Jacobovici is NOT a biblical scholar, he is NOT a historian, he is NOT even an archaeologist. He's a filmmaker.

If it wasn't so ridiculous and dangerous, it would be funny - he's the sort who starts off his "exploration" by saying that the bible is true, and seems to be one of those people who is determined to believe that this is so, just because the bible says it. His methodology is a joke, even if he is personable and seems credible enough to the uninformed. Therein lies the danger - this man has a specific agenda that is at odds with science and history, and yet his theories are presented as if they are supported and generally valid. They are not.

This is not an issue of religious vs non-religious, of belief vs non-belief. It doesn't matter which side of those issues you are on: you should demand basic adherence to the proper methodology from anyone proposing to know "the truth". Accepting an idea because we want to believe it, quickly undermines any scientific inquiry (regardless of which conclusion you support). Archeologists are, understandably, frustrated.. This is amateur hour, and it is deeply flawed, no matter how attractive.

The ideas might be interesting, they might even have some kernel of real evidence, and Jacobovici's obvious enthusiasm and charm make for a good show, but that's all it is: a show by a filmmaker with a specific message to get across. Each show starts off with his conclusion, which is heavily biased to his own political and religious views (and I find it quite interesting that many Christian sites are equally critical about his show as I am). He has weighed in on recent finds (the Ossuary of Josephus, Jesus' tomb, etc) as if he actually has the qualifications to do so, as if the bald assertion that "this is true" suddenly makes it so.

The show is sensationalist, makes unsupported claims, ignores current scholarly research, and yet it airs without any explanation that the producer of the show is presenting his own opinions as fact without any real support or evidence. It's entertainment presented as truth, and as we all know, a plausible "explanation" is often better accepted than the truth, because it is simpler and doesn't require much thought.

It would be an interesting show if he actually approached the topic with some sense of impartial and unprejudiced curiosity. Since he can't, the honest thing to do is to be up front about your biases and explain how he comes to his opinions and views. If any show requires a disclaimer, this one does.

* Ok, one tiny tangent - how can you have a show on the possibility that Jesus had a brother, if you haven't proven (even slightly) that the Jesus you are talking about existed? Or that God punished the builders of the Tower of Babel, if you haven't a shred of evidence that the god you are describing existed, or the tower itself? Sigh.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whoops

Wow. Apparently a Continental 737 slid off the runway at takeoff and burst into flames! A dozen or so people were injured and released from local hospitals, and the NTSB is starting the investigation into what happend.

Eek. I hate flying anyways. I don't think they've had an incident at DIA before!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Allergies

The poor weasel is allergic to a TON of stuff.

Berit has had ongoing problems with itching and losing hair on her feet, and all sorts of problems associated with allergies. We've been taking her to the veterinary allergist down in Denver and our first try to get things settled was to try a limited diet (which lasted three months, and there was no change when we went back to the regular food), and finally scratch tests to find out what she's allergic to.

So, just like humans, they do the grid scratch test for 60-some things and then make up allergy serum based on that. Berit is allergic to a half-dozen types of trees, weeds, insect bites, timothy grass, household dust, ragweed, and all sorts of other things. I took her in today for the test and they shaved a big spot on her side, did the poking and scratching, and sent us home with vials of allergy shots and a spiffy blue t-shirt. Poor beastie.

As soon as she wakes up (they sedated her to do the test and she's pretty groggy), I'll flip her over and show you the nifty pink grid she has.


So, allergy shots for the next year or so. At least we can do those at home!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mutant Teeth

In to the dentist today, to have a little mutant wisdom tooth pulled -- not a whole tooth, just a teeny-weeny little tooth that came in way behind my last molar. The dentist called it a microtooth (and laughed that I was a mutant). It wasn't causing any problems, really, but he wanted it pulled anyway, just in case. It moved a little bit, and that was just asking for problems down the line.

Removing it was pretty uneventful, and it didn't even hurt much. Took a bit of work to get out, though, since the root was hooked. But I came home and went back to work, since it didn't bother me at all.

Well, that was before the novocaine wore off. I feel like a chipmunk today and my jaw hurts. Waah!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Visa Requirements

Always on the lookout for a useful website -- when travelling, countries require different documentation and visas. We're going on a 7-day cruise with my family to the Caribbean over New Years, and I found this very helpful website for which countries require what:

Visa HQ.

Luxury or idiocy?

Dubai is planning to build a 'refrigerated beach', to appeal to the 'top people' who apparently don't want want to lie on hot sand. They're going to artificially cool the sand so it's comfortable and attractive to people who have more money than sense, apparently.
A system of heat-absorbing pipes and giant wind blowers will “keep tourists cool in the searing 40-50C heat.” Soheil Abedian, president of Palazzo Versace hotel that will be home to the refrigerated beach, said: “We will suck the heat out of the sand to keep it cool enough to lie on. This is the kind of luxury that top people want.”
Dubai is the reductio ad absurdum of consumer culture.

So what?

From ABC news, after Bush was in Iraq for a quick grip-and-grin.

BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take–

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that’s right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

Seriously? Well, I guess it doesn't matter that the leader of the free world is a) out of touch with reality and b) so condescendingly dismissive of truth.

Replacement Policy

If you have dogs, you need Lupine Collars -- their replacement policy is absolutely fabulous. Basically, if the collar is damaged for any reason, including puppies chewing on them, they replace them, no questions asked.

I think we're on our 10th or 12th collar for Berit, and at least three for Rowan.


For some reason, they seem to like to grab hold of them and chew them off when they play (including once when Rowan got his jaw stuck under Berit's collar and scared the living crap out of me -- she was turning blue by the time I caught them and unclipped her collar!).

Eventually, they're going to have to cut us off. But so far, we show up at our vet's office about once a month with a mangled collar and bring home a spiffy new one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beautiful Cakes

I'm a huge fan of the Cakewreck blog - it gives me a smile when I check it every morning. Every once in a while, the blogger has a post on a fabulous cake, and I actually spent a half hour or so looking at the absolutely stunning cakes at Cake Nouveau and wishing that I had some occassion to order one of them.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bottomless Puppy Pits


We realized today (after the Adorable Husband bought three enormous bags of dogfood) that the Phouka household is going through about 120 pounds of dog food in a month.

Obviously, the puppies are in a growth spurt (which is scary enough in itself, since they are 100 pounds apiece), and it's getting cold outside. They need more food, but I hadn't realized just how much. Since we free-feed, we just leave a full bowl of food out (a 2 gallon bucket-full) and they eat as much as they want/need. Since they aren't Labs (who will eat until they burst), we have always done this. They are snarfing down more than bowl a day, I think!

We have a dogfood bin attached to the wall in the laundry room that holds a forty pound bag of food. We're filling it every 10 days, or less.

Yikes!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Travel Karma Averted

For once, my Certifiably Awful Travel Karma seems to have been averted.

Spending two days in Milwaukee (well, really Saukville) WI sounded like a good idea -- until we got 6-8" of snow here in Denver, and the client told me that they were expecting a foot of snow in Milwaukee. On the day I was supposed to arrive.

Oh, great. That sounds like fun. And pretty typical, for me. If there's a way to be delayed, lost, snowed on, tornadoed, or otherwise suffer travel trauma while traveling for work, I'll figure it out. Land at the wrong airport and sit on the tarmac for four hours? Check. Land seven hours late? Check. Get the last seat in the last row of the plane? Check. No cars available at the checkout desk except a full-size, rear-wheel-drive cargo van? Oh, yeah.

But this time? Not a hitch. Well, a nearly white-out raging snowstorm, but the plane landed on time, I had a whole row to myself, the roads were plowed, and my directions were good. Coming back, an exit row seat and an early arrival. Can't complain too much about that.

I'm not quite ready to celebrate the passing of the Bad Travel Baton, but it was a nice change.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

First Snow

Last year we had a dry, dry winter, with barely any snow here at all. The mountains got hundreds of inches of snow, but we only got a dusting once in a while.

Our first snow is late this year - usually we have a flurry or two in October, but we've barely had any precip at all. So when we woke up to tons of soft, fluffy snow it was a surprise.

But isn't it lovely?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday Baking Frenzy

The Adorable Husband was up at 5am, baking. Yes, FIVE. Oy.

He didn't feel well last night, and so he was in bed by 7, so he did get a decent night's sleep. I got to wake up to the lovely smell of baking bread and he made six loaves of Cardamom Bread, and big double batches of both spice cookies and sugar cookies.

The Holiday Baking Frenzy has begun!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And we are not dead!

Nope, didn't fall of the face of the earth, didn't disappear into the ether -- just busy, and taking a break after the nail-biting stress of the political elections. Sigh. Much calmer now. Much.

At any rate - Let's see, catching up: I'm still at my current client, on an extension until the end of the year, at least; spent a couple of days if fabulous Wichita, KS teaching class, back working in my office. The commute is still horrid - I usually have to step over dogs to get to work!

We're coming up on the Yearly Turkey Feast - we'll have a houseful of people over and eat until we cannot move, when watch movies or something. The Adorable Husband isn't on call for Thanksgiving, but he is at Christmas this year.

I finished putting up the 'welcomes' in the entry -- 20 different languages (there's a cheat sheet in the closet!). It was really hard to take pictures, but hopefully these give you some idea:


Fun, eh? The words are all from WiseDecor, and are vinyl letters. It's a pain in the butt to burnish them onto the not-quite-smooth walls, but the effect is actually very nice - they look painted on.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quick Thinking

A Chino Valley, Arizona woman was jogging on a trail near Granite Mountain Monday when a fox attacked her. The animal bit her foot, and when she tried to grab it, bit her arm and held on. She ran a mile back to her car with the fox still attached. The jogger then pried the fox’s jaws open, threw it in her trunk, and drove to a hospital. The fox also bit the animal control officer who removed it from the trunk. The animal tested positive for rabies, and both the woman and the animal control officer are being treated.
Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to mug her? They'd probably end up in teh trunk, too!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Double Standard?

As the results of the election continue to trickle in (there are still some senate races where the final numbers are either too close to call or not complete), it's rather fun to watch the conservative pundits still try to spin this as a "conservative victory". Um, no. Obama won by such a wide margin that this is definitely a sea-chnage in the way the American public views politics.

Apparently the pundits don't quite get the picture.

Robert Novak is trying to argue that a 7 million vote margin in the popular vote, an increase of six (and possible more) senate seats, and a startlingly disproportional electroral college vote are not a mandate for Obama. "He neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities."

Compare this to his comments about Bush's win in 2004, where Bush had 3.5 million vote margin in the popular vote, an increase of four senate seats, and 63 fewer electoral votes than Obama: "Of course it is [really a mandate]." The compartatively narrow victory for Bush was a clear sign of a Conservative Mandate, while the twice-as-large victory for Obama is not?

Spin if you want, but the facts are pretty obvious and the double-standard even more so. It's apparently going to take a while for things to sink in.

America is not necessarily a conservative country, as the Republican contigent want us to believe, want desperately for us to believe.
As a matter of fact, if you look at the voting trends in the last few years, more counties are swinging to the democratic side than are becoming progressively more Republican. The Republican part is still strong in certain areas of the country, but those areas appear to be shrinking and becoming less strongly Republican then they have been. Look at this map of the voting trends -- the darker the color, the more dramatic the change in voter trends; redder is more republican than 2004, bluer is more democratic than in 2004. The GOP is really becoming a regional party - there is no nation-wide conservative movement that has impact across the country.

That's going to change the way things are done. Whether you think that the changes are going to be good or bad is irrelevant - the facts are clear. It's fun to watch the spin and obstinate adherence to the talking points when they so clearly contradict reality.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Can!

John McCain's concession speech was gracious and uniting, and I was struck by how much better he sounded tonight than he has in any of the recent rallies. For the first time in weeks, I think McCain really felt strongly about what he was saying. Barack Obama's speech was inspiring. A good night. Watching the local races and local referendum, I am gratified to see that calm, rational thinking won the day.

If tonight was not a heartfelt "up yours" to politics as usual, I don't know what is. "Change" has been the watchword of both campaigns (ironic or not), and the voters spoke overwhelmingly, loudly, clearly for a different path. At my last check, 338 electoral college votes, probably 370 if the close races are accurate. 52% of the popular vote. That's almost unprecendented.

A mandate for change - I hope that the president-elect is up to the challenge, and I am very hopeful. It will be a relief to have a president who is intelligent, thoughtful, and capable of seeing nuance in the world. One who understands and can comprehend the complex issues that face us today, and (so far) seems capable of listening to other opinions and accepting guidance from all parties. What a change.

Oh, yeah, and a president who can pronounce the world 'nuclear'. I am thrilled!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day. No matter who you believe in, who you support -

GO VOTE.

This is our contribution to the workings of Government. Don't miss out.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Misplaced Priorities

I'm a gamer (or, well, I have been serious gamer in the past and would continue to be one if I had any spare time!) and have found those involved in D&D and the various other table-top RPG games to be a fine and generous group.

But D&D has always been viewed as "suspect" by the Christianist movement - all that talk of monsters and demons and such in a game are obviously a sign of satan worship or other depraved deeds. That's all just ridiculous, of course (why is it that most people can differentiate between a game and reality without a problem, but that fact eludes so many?).

But it did lead to a very unfortunate decision by the Christian Children's Fund - a favorite charity of D&D creator Gary Gygax -- to REFUSE a donation from the GenCon group because they are associated with and accept D&D players' donations.
As has been reported by a few other gaming blogs and news sites, the Charity Auction at this year's GenCon Indianapolis was held to benefit Gary Gygax's favorite charity, which I will not name here for reasons that will soon become obvious. The fine folks at GenCon raised over $17,000 for this charity, which helps starving children in impovershed areas of the world--only to have that money actually turned down by the charity. The charity refused due to the fact that the money was raised partly by the sales of Dungeons and Dragons materials, which as we all know, puts an irrevocable taint of evil on the filthy lucre that us demon-worshipping gamers might want to use to, say, donate to starving children. Not only is this a slap in the face to every gamer, but it is especially insulting to Mr. Gygax himself, who I understand donated to their cause many times over the years. Plus, I'm sure the children who would have gotten food or clean drinking water with that money would be sort of upset, too.
Letting medieval superstition overshadow the modern world, and who suffers? The very people who should be protected and aided. Not only do they not get the benefit of the money donated by those horrible gamers, but the Christian Children's Fund has revealed that they have a very different agenda than, you know, actually helping people.Misplaced priorities, displayed at their very best.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not my Style

I'm really trying to get the website and photos from Ireland up (only three years later! eek!) and came across this photo again and had to wonder, "what the hell? Who decorates like this?"

They're called Leuchterweibchen and Lüsterweibchen, and are usually from Germany and most examples date from the 15th-17th century. (If you can read German, the wiki page has more explanation)

Usually angels or mermaids with antlers, apparently all the rage in the 16h century. I wonder if these were viewed as treasured (if odd) artistic masterpieces or as the medieval trailer-trash equivalent of an antler chair? I haven't a clue.

If you stare at them long enough, they actually start to become attractive.

Factoid

A popup blurb on the history channel noted that "out of every 10,000 acorns produced, one will grow into a tree."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exodus 32

From Pharyngula:
Some Christian fanatics are concerned, quite reasonably, about the economy, and have chosen, quite absurdly, to try and correct the problem with prayer. So far, so typical, but then … well, they picked a peculiarly oblivious way to do it. They prayed before a statue of a golden bull on Wall Street.
If it makes people feel better, pray. Go for it. I'm not dissing the intent -- just the execution. The location of the prayer meeting at "the golden calf" was either a) brilliantly planned as a piquant irony or b) entirely oblivious to the rather odd juxtaposition of worship and...an idol.

I know they aren't praying TO the idol, but the image is right out of the movie The Ten Commandments and it did give me just a little giggle today.

When you Vote

I've already voted (by mail, which is allowed in Colorado for everyone), and many other people are taking advantage of "early voting" in person, but many people are waiting until Election Day to vote, and trying to juggle work and commute and other reponsibilities that day.

I personally think that Election Day should be a federal holiday. I mean, Columbus gets a day, isn't the day we celebrate the internal workings of our democracy (or republic, if you must pick nits) important enough to take off?

At any rate, here are the state-by-state rules for taking time off work to vote.

Also if you have any questions about whether you are registed or what status your absentee vote is in, check out canivote.org.

Not sure what you need to do to identify yourself? Are you a student and not sure if you can vote at home or at school?

You keep using that word...

For those people who are spouting off about socialists and socialism, here's what the word actually means:

socialism (sou.Saliz'm). a. Fr. socialisme (1832), or independently f. social a. + -ism. See also next.

1. A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all.

2. A state of society in which things are held or used in common.

[From the OED]

You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

I know it's a big, scary sort of word, but whipping it out to freak out the "base" when you obviously don't really understand what it means, is manipulative.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Woofly woofly urp

I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new computer game - Fallout 3, by the same company that made my favorite game, Oblivion -- and when it arrived in stores today, I was there and skipped back home to install and play it.

Lovely, game. Well, beautiful graphics, great sound, gorgeous "environment", even if the setting of the game is post-apocalyptic Washington DC populated by mutants and malfunctioning military robots.

Of course, I put it on the humungous new monitor, started playing, and got motion sick.

Seriously. Teeth-clenchingly nauseated. My monitor is too big to play immersive first person games.

Well, at least without a bit more practice and an empty stomach.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Xray Tape

Weird factoid -- when you peel normal Scotch tape in a vacuum, it emits x-rays -- apparently enough to generate an image! How weird is that.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have shown that simply peeling ordinary sticky tape in a vacuum can generate enough X-rays to take an image — of one of the scientists' own fingers (see videos).
That's actually kind of cool. Everyone has done the Wintergreen Lifesaver crunch test, and apparently some other adhesives do the same thing. It apparently has something to do with crushing crystals and breaking molecular bonds, but they aren't quite sure.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All the Weather

We have been hosting the Adorable Husband's relatives from Sweden for a few days, and trying to show them the highlights of Denver -- amazing how hard it is to think of what to do and where to go; I mean, we live here, we should be able to pick the top three or four things easily!

We went out yesterday to the Celestial Seasonings tour -- we still smelled like the "mint room" at dinner! -- and then walked up and down Pearl Street Mall and watched the people. Everyone wanted to see where the Husband worked, so we stopped in to the hospital and took a quick tour. They had a patient in the lab, so we didn't stay very long before heading down for Mexican food for dinner. We laughed that Sweden didn't really have any Mexican restaurants, and if they did, they would probably be very bad.

We got all kinds of weather, though. Rain, sun, sleet. We managed to time our visits indoors to the rain and sleet, and be outside when it was sunny!

The predictions for today were for windy and cold -- it was cold, but beautifully sunny and we drove up the canyon to Estes Park, and back down through Lyons. We even saw some Bighorn sheep. Finally, we went to the science museum, because we have the best dinosaurs.

It's been really fun, and they are so nice!

I have to work tomorrow, but everyone else is going to go out to do something fun before they have to leave -- on to Florida to visit more family and go to Disneyworld.

Small-town American Value

I'm sure that everyone wants her to look nice, but spending three times a "average American's" yearly income on clothes for just two months seems a bit excessive to me.

The RNC has expensed over $150,000 for clothes and accessories for Palin and her family since she was selected as VP, including baby items. In two months, they've spent that much on clothes and shoes and whatever for the whole Palin family. Seriously? Does no one think that might be a bit extravagant in this time of people worrying about their jobs and trying to make ends meet and buy groceries or pay for their house? Ostensibly the clothes can be "donated" somewhere. Who knows. Apparently "real americans" spend 75 thousand dollars at a shot at Nieman Marcus. I know for sure that I don't. Does anyone? Does "small town america" think that's reasonable? I thought this ticket was all about the middle class. I don't konw what their definition is, but it isn't mine.

I'm sure it's a common thing, but the amount seems really high, to me. If I had donated to the RNC, I'd be pretty damn pissed that they squandered it on dressing Palin up instead of helping Republicans in key races. Legal or not (and there is some question), how are the struggling Americans supporting the Republican ticket going to feel about that? Dressing up the candidate could probably get a pass (although she's been a politician for years now, shouldn't she already have a wardrobe?), but gussying up the whole family? Add that to the outrageous expenditures and questionable behavior as governor and it's just too much. Who signed off on this? Who authorized the charges?

I guess the thing that bothers me about this is that the Republicans apparently spared no thought to spend nearly 200K on her clothes and makeup....but didn't seem to spend any time or money actually educating her on what she needs to know to be be VP. She still can't articulate what the role of the VP is (and is frighteningly, completely wrong on how they "Run the senate!"), is uninformed about world affairs, and is actively contradicting McCain. It's representative of how the party views her, though -- she isn't expected to DO anything, just look pretty. The Republican party's disdain for women and women's abilities is breathtaking.

If a $300 haircut was once the epitome of "elitist" and "out of touch", what are 300 dollar shoes? Or $8K in makeup for McCain? Apparently, it's only wrong if you're not a Republican.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And I Believe...

I've been hearing and reading a lot of people stating that "I believe x is true" or "I believe y is false" lately (especially in relation to political arguments), and I have to admit a bit of frustration. Belief is the purview of religious faith, or conjecture, or wishful thinking. You might believe that angels exist, or you might believe that your sister ate the last cupcake, or you might believe that it will rain tomorrow. None of these things is demonstrably true. I believe that it will be cold tonight and I believe that my dog really does have some sort of mental power that causes me to open the biscuit bin.

In that usage, I have no problem with it. Believe or don't believe in those instances and everyone knows what you mean: you wish/hope that angels exist, you want it to be true that your sister ate the cupcake, you wish that it will rain tomorrow. I want it to be cold tonight, I love cold weather, and I suspect that I am extremely well-trained by my dogs to fetch things for them.

Why does this come up? During the debate last night, John McCain stated that he would "fight for the line-item veto" as a way of eliminating ear-marks and the much-maligned pork in the budget. He obviously wasn't paying attention when the Supreme Court rejected the line-item veto as unconstitutional. He believes that it could be constitutional, that it is constitutional, but that the previous legislation was "flawed".

Sorry, that doesn't fly. This has already gone to the SC and it's not constitutional. That's fact. No belief required or allowed.

You don't get to "believe" contrary to facts. You might not like them, and you might wish that they weren't true, but that doesn't change the objective facts out there that simply are. Saying that you "believe something to be true/false" when there is objective evidence that it is true or false is just wishful thinking. Your belief in that case is unnecessary and can be absolutely wrong.

The Holocaust, Global warming, evolution, the age of the earth, (all things I've heard recently as "I don't believe in...") these things are not really up for the application of belief. Saying you "don't believe in global warming" or "don't believe in evolution" simply marks you as someone who is uninformed. We might not know the reason things happen, or what specific causes exist, but the facts are not in question. For example, do we know that human beings have caused global warming? Do we know exactly why or how a common ancestor behaved? No, but that doesn't change that facts, and it's frustrating to discuss any of these topics with someone who shoves their "belief" up front as if it is proof against all logic and reason. "I don't believe the holocaust actually occured, " I was reading this week. Huh? When the voluninous evidence for this event was presented, it was hand-waved away, with "oh, that's all fabricated". As the conversation got more heated, the initial poster suddenly started copmlaining that we weren't "respecting his belief". It was almost surreal. That sort of belief does not deserve respect, it deserved derision, not just because Holocaust-denial is considered anti-semitism of the highest order, but because that much-vaunted belief is contrary to reality and flat-out wrong.

For many, "I believe" is a shorthand for a lot of things. I have used believe in relation to Global Warming - as in, "I don't believe that humans are solely responsible for the rise in global temperature" when what I really mean is "Based on what I know, and the studies that I have read, there are many things that could be responsible for the effects, not just humans". It's sloppy wording, really.

But what I'm seeing a lot of lately is someone announcing "they believe X" and then getting all offended and pissy when you dare to question that belief.

The world is rarely black and white, so we all equivocate to some extent to avoid having to state with authority something which we don't know for certain. But I'm going to be far more careful of my use of "believe", or at least I will try to. It's picking nits, really, I know that. We all know what people mean when they say this; we don't equate "I believe the line-item veto is constitutional" with "I believe in unicorns". Or at least we shouldn't.

Contemptible

Seriously. What is WRONG with these people?

The latest newsletter by an Inland Republican women's group depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama surrounded by a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken, prompting outrage in political circles. It was sent out in an email newsletter to about 200 members, many of whom responded with outrage and anger. But the president of the organization seems surprised that anyone would find her "joke" to be offensive.

The graphic comes from here.

"It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement [that he doesn't look like other presidents]. I really don't want to go into it any further," Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn't my attempt."

Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.

She said she doesn't think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.

"I didn't see it the way that it's being taken. I never connected," she said. "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."

She said she also wasn't trying to make a statement linking Obama and food stamps, although her introductory text to the illustration connects the two: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Her disingenous "oh, no, I'm not a racist, narrow-minded offensive bigot I have black friends" is pretty repulsive. No, she's not racist.Those images were just cute, meaningless examples. She never thought of it that way. You believe that, right? All in fun!

Yeah. Riiiiiiiight.

Here's the source of the graphic. There is no way she didn't "know" that this was a racist piece of crap, if she took half a second to actually read the disgusting email or website that she was sent:

Red Kool-Aid, fried chicken, watermelon, and even pork ribs are displayed on the document as a reminder", Plouffe continued, "The food stamp amount correlates to the cost of the item. For example, the $10 food stamp has things like ribs and chicken, while the $5 food stamp relevantly displays Collard Greens, diapers, and MD 20/20."

Anyone reading this think that isn't racist? Anyone reading this who doesn't think it's offensive and patently racist? How could you not?

There is a contingent of right-wing voters who really are hung up on race, and seem to find no problems with expressing that. I guess when their candidate himself doesn't seem to mind the angry, racist shouts at his rallies, the rest of the "base" (and I mean that in all possible connotations) think it's ok. Nice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unfunny Comedy

Since my primary news source lately has been The Daily Show and Colbert Report, I'm watching a lot of Comedy Central. I've been seeing ads for the last week or so for a new show called Chocolate News - a spoof comedy news show "from an African-American perspective".

Some of the clips looks pretty funny, but for the most part they are squirmingly painful and embarrassing. Now, I'm about as white as white can be. I glow. I'm faintly blue. So maybe I just don't get it, but if I were black, I would be mortified to be associated with the stereotypes and mocking portrayals in the skits. I assume it's supposed to be self-deprecating humor, self-mocking, a "we can say whatever we want because we're laughing at ourselves" sort of show, but the caricatures aren''t funny. They're cruel and demeaning. I don't get the attraction. It's as if every African-American sitcom has to play a grotesque mockery of a character. It's all MadTV, all the time.

It's kind of the same way I feel about Sarah Silverman. When she's funny, she is really funny. But that's about 5% of the time. Most of her stand up and all of her television show are stupid and insulting and squirm inducing. Not funny at all, not even in an uncomfortable "ha-ha-" sort of way. She's just lame and seems to want to shock instead of amuse. I suppose there's an allure there, but I don't quite understand it.

Humor is a very personal thing; funny to one person is offensive or flat or boring to someone else. I'll be the first to admit that I have a strange sense of humor (I tend to laugh myself silly in movies where no one else laughs), but I can't summon even a moment of interest to watch the show.

National Grouch Day

Release your Inner Grouch!

October 15th is National Grouch Day, according to Sesame Street Magazine. And here I was wondering why I was so crabby on this gorgeous fall day!
"A Grouch's mission in life is to be as miserable and grouchy as possible, and pass that feeling on to everyone else. Only then will a Grouch feel in touch with his or her world and be happy. Yet, even though a Grouch may show happiness at anyone's misfortune (including his or her own), a Grouch would never admit to being happy. Such is the stability of a Grouch's life: so balanced, and yet so unbalanced.

This is the tenor of the campaign?

The Sacremento GOP site. (well, it's been removed now, but it was considered OK before!). Great job fomenting hate, there, McCain/Palin.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Happy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watching the English

On the recommendation of a reader list online that I browse through, I picked up a book called Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior, by Kate Fox - an anthropological view of the strange and exotic culture of England. Instead of spending time in remote Burundi or the Amazon rainforest, Kate Fox spends time cutting lines and watching pub behavior in her native country, and the result is an absolutely fascinating, funny, irreverent look at why the English are so English and why everyone else is so not.

The Adorable Husband made the mistake of picking it up from the pile of books in the bathroom (yes, we have piles of books in every bathroom. Everyone reads in the bathroom, even those people who deny it. We know you do!) and was actually late for work. I've been reading it at random and picking out bits. Having traveled to the UK, and knowing a couple of Veddy English People, some of these observations are absolutely dead on.

Queueing, for example. There are endless jokes about how the English line up for thing automatically, even if there really isn't a line, and the author describes the phenomenon of the "queue of one" - English people don't loll about at bus stops, or pace around the curb while waiting to cross, oh, no,. They will stand lined up with the sign, facing the road, looking for all the world like they are the first person in the queue. Even if it's only them. I had to laugh while reading this, because it's one of the things I noticed over and over in Ireland - people standing with an obvious purpose waiting for things, but with absolutely nothing around them.

And this bit on Toast, which had both of us laughing -- this is exactly our experience:
...Toast is a breakfast staple, and an all-purpose, anytime comfort food. What tea alone does not cure, tea and toast surely will. The 'toast rack' is a peculiarly English object. My father, who lives in America and ha become somewhat American in his tastes and habits, calls it a 'toast cooler' and claims that its sole function is to ensure that one's toast gets stone cold as quickly as possible. English supporters of the toast rack would argue that it keeps the toast dry and crisp, that separating the slices of toast and standing them upright stops them becoming soggy, which is what happens to American toast, served piled up hugger-mugger in a humid, perspiring stack on the plate, sometimes even wrapped in a napkin to retain yet more moisture. The English would rather have their toast cool and dry than warm and damp. American toast lacks reserve and dignity; it is too sweaty and indiscreet and emotional.
Sweaty toast? Well, that explains our experiences with the metal 'toast coolers' (which the Adorable Husband call them, too).

I definitely recommend the book - it is charming and funny.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dissed at Daycare

We are banned from Puppy Camp.

We waited over six months after Rowan had his Very Bad Day, we haven't had any problems at home at all, so we tried a half-day at Camp.

He lasted 15 minutes. They mixed Rowan and Berit in with the other forty or so dogs and Rowan went after the first dog that followed him and they turned the hose on him again.
No one was hurt, just lots of snarling and snapping, but he was definitely not on his best behavior.

I had just gotten home and started up the puppy cam to see how things were going when they called me and let me know what happened. I drove straight back out and picked them up. Rowan's a love with people, but he's definitely on the far end of the 'dog aggressive/dominant' range that Akitas seem to live in. Damn.

He's been very affectionate all afternoon, and has been trying to wedge himself under my desk and making big sad puppy eyes at me. He's definitely sorry!

Berit can go back, but Rowan is officially, "asked not to return".

Brilliant

This is brilliant. We should do this at every appearance by every political candidate. Way better than a "debate" that is little more than a scripted talk-show.

Is this the country you want?

McCain asked "who is Barack Obama?" and someone in the crowd yells out "Terrorist!" McCain doesn't react.

Palin trots our her newest soundbite "and he's pallin' around with terrorists!" and someone in the crow yells out "Kill him!" and as she blames the media for her failed interviews, someone tells a black sound-man for one of the networks to "sit down, boy!"

Sounds more like a klan rally than a political rally, doesn't it? Is this the sort of leadership that we want in the white house? McCain and Palin now seem to be deliberately targeting those with a pent up need to finally give their hate free reign and they are enjoying the attention that their baseless attacks are garnering. That's just dishonorable. Does anyone really want to be associated with these people?

When you base all your hopes on a campaign of hate and fear, you bring out the worst in people. This is the path McCain has taken. Liberal = unpatriotic = terrorist. What a great message.

And the base? Looooooves it.

Sarah Palin was on the verge of inciting a race riot in northern Florida yesterday. At her rallies, the Republican faithful hurled a racial epithet at a black sound man, and screamed "kill him" and "treason!" at Barack Obama.

"Boy, you guys just get it!" Palin responded. This reaction, presumably, was what Palin had in mind when she urged John McCain to "take the gloves off."



I am disgusted. And frightened.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Math

I'm not watching the debate - I've already voted, it's not going to change my mind, I really can't stand the mudslinging any more. I'm keeping up with the transcript. However, I'm getting very tired this tired old canard:

"Obama voted 94 times for tax increases or against tax cuts." Palin used it, McCains brought it up again.

Using the same methods that the McCain campaign used to calculate that number, McCain has voted for 477 tax increases.

Farmkid Quiz

Ok, match the tractor color to the manufacturer:

1. Red, 2. Green 3. Yellow, 4. Orange, 5. Blue, 6. Gray.

A. Allis-Chalmers, B. Ferguson, C. Ford, D. Int'l Harvester, E. John Deere, F. Mpls Moline.

It's not really quite that simple - most manufacturers made tractors in many colors, but there are some "traditional colors".

Answers: 1D, 2E, 3F, 4A, 5C, 6B

Monday, October 06, 2008

Donations wanted

Does anyone have a spare six million laying around, that they would like to donate to the Phouka Has Found Her New House Fund?

An entire island is for sale - Wee Cumbrae, of the Ayrshire coast in Scotland. 680 acres, a sprawling Victorian mansion, Gertrude Jekyll gardens, and an actual ruined castle!

It's perfect!

Well, except for the no electricity except for generators, and access only by boat, but otherwise... lovely, eh?

NOW does not endorse Palin

If you were worried that NOW (National Org for Women ) had lost its mind and was endorsing Gov. Palin, based on the fact that a woman named Shelly Mandell, identifying herself as the president of the LA NOW introduced Palin at a California event and heartily endorsed her -- well, you can relax. Or get pissed, pick your poison.

Shelly Mandell was acting on her own, apparently invoking her position in NOW to mislead people into thinking that the womens' organization endorsed Palin. NOW in NO WAY supports or endorses Palin.

Statement from CA NOW President, Patty Bellasalma:

A member and officer of the Los Angeles NOW chapter, Shelly Mandell, recently introduced Governor Sarah Palin at an event in Carson, California. Ms. Mandell was speaking as an individual and was not authorized to represent NOW, the NOW PAC or LA NOW in any capacity in connection with a federal candidate endorsement. As NOW President Kim Gandy said upon Palin’s selection , "Not every woman supports women's rights."

The use of Shelly Mandell’s Los Angeles NOW title was apparently intended to mislead the public, and indeed has resulted in local television outlets and internet reports misstating that LA NOW has “endorsed” Sarah Palin or that she has a record of supporting women’s rights. This in fact is not the case.

As President of California NOW and as a member and officer of Los Angeles NOW, I can assure you that there is no local or state affiliate of NOW, including LA NOW, which endorses or supports the McCain/Palin ticket. John McCain and Sarah Palin oppose many of the rights and freedoms we have fought for throughout NOW's 42 years, and we will not be pushed back to the days of back-alley abortions, forced pregnancies, and pay discrimination without remedy.

Shelly Mandel should be removed from her position of authority in the LA chapter. She certainly does not represent the organization's long and hard-fought gains for women.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

And it goes with the CLOCK!

Other than an ottoman, the living room is pretty much done! DONE! Yeah! I should have taken pictures when the sun was shining, but here's a quick look:—



Pretty different, eh? It's amazing how much warmer the room feels -- and we can actually sit down and talk to each other without getting neck strain!

You can't actually see the couch pattern very well -- here it is, a dark gold, black, and red paisley. The pillows are merlot and merlot/dark green stripe. Mark's new recliner (which I didn't get a picture of, it looks like a blob in this light) is chocolate brown.

And in this corner....

The latest attack ad by the mcCain camp is to try to link Obama's ideology to that of William Ayers and claiming that he's "palling around with terrorists". This is pretty shaky, at best, considering that their "relationship" consists of being on a community board together almost 30 years after Ayers actions with the WUO. They aren't "buddies", they don't "pal around".They have met. Which, apparently, is enough for McCain/Palin to start announcing that Obama has terrorist intentions. Lies and distortions. Well, I shouldn't be surprised. That seems to the be new "plan" for the campaign.
Obama is close enough to Ayers that it is relevant to inquire about Ayers beliefs, and ask whether Obama shares them.
But, let's see here. If picking up on every acquaintance and associate in a candidates' past is fair game, to see if they might have some dirt to divulge, let's see what we should be looking at:
  • John McCain is close enough to Raffaello Follieri that is is relevant to inquire about Follieri's beliefs and ask whether McCain shares them.
  • Sarah Palin is close enough to Pastor Muthee that is is relevant to inquire about Muthee's beliefs and ask whether McCain shares them.
  • John McCain is close enough to Charles Keating that is is relevant to inquire about Keating's beliefs and ask whether McCain shares them.
  • Sarah Palin close enough to the AIP that is is relevant to inquire about the AIP's beliefs and ask whether McCain shares them.
  • John McCain and Sarah Palin are close enough to George Bush that is is relevant to inquire about Bush's beliefs and ask whether McCain shares them.
Why would anyone with any hint of scandal in their past get into the ring and start swinging? Do they think people aren't going to remember or ask questions?

Negative campaign ads annoy the hell out of me. I'd love to see a rule that you can't mention the other candidate in your ad - only your own abilities and ideas. Maybe that would raise the level of discourse and actually, you know, educate the voters about what the two different sides are.

Nah, that wouldn't be fun. It wouldn't get ratings, I guess.

Misquoting

One of the most incomprehensible arguments I hear for voting the Republican ticket is, "you're a woman, you should vote for Palin! You should vote for a woman!" as if having a vagina is enough qualification for me to turn off my brain and ignore the fact that she represents exactly 0 of my views. As I've noted before, I find it insulting that they assume I'd vote my genitalia despite my beliefs.

At a rally on Saturday in California, Sarah Palin offered up a rather jarring argument for supporting the Republican ticket. "There's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't support other women," the Alaska Governor said, claiming she was quoting former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The statement came after Palin had recounted a "providential" moment she experienced on Saturday: "I'm reading on my Starbucks mocha cup, okay? The quote of the day... It was Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State [crowd boos] and UN ambassador. ... Now she said it, I didn't. She said, 'There's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't support other women.'"

Well, at least we know what Palin reads now. Starbucks cups. And she gets them wrong.

The actual quote is "There is a special place is hell for women who don't HELP other women."

Albright, in response, noted that the quote was not political in nature, and that it was entirely misrepresented by Palin. "This is yet another example of McCain and Palin distorting the truth." she said.

Given that Palin is anti-choice, anti-contraception, anti-sex ed, signed off on rape victims to paying for their own rape kit and evidence collection, and would force them to carry a rapists baby to term...well, she's not exactly helping or supporting other women, is she? Palin (deliberately?) substituted in the word "support" for "help." Entirely different meaning. Perhaps she out to shell out a couple of bucks for a pair of fireproof pants for her own trip to hell.

Palin, honey? That quote is about women like YOU.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Things I Learned

Should I ever have the privilege of standing on the stage as a political candidate, here are a few things I learned from watching/reading the presidential debate last week and the vp debate last night:

1. Learn to say 'nuclear'. It is not pronounced nu-ku-lur. Why politicians can't manage to learn how to say this simple three-syllable word properly is a mystery. Nu-clear. How hard is that? If you can manage to spout Ahamdinejad, work on nuclear, please.

(1b. And, while we're at it, pronounce the whole word, don't drop the 'g. Words have final consonants in English. It's not folksy, it's not cute, it's a weird affectation.)

2. Answer the questions that you are asked. Don't just spout words on a topic that you pick, so that the moderator has to ask you if you intend to 'address the topic'. You just look disorganized and an awful lot like a droid spouting words you don't understand if your answer isn't related to the actual question.

3. Keep track of your comparisons so that you don't argue that a = b for your side, but that a <> b for your opponent. McCains programs are a tax cut because of tax savings in other areas, but Obamas programs are a tax increase despite a tax savings in other areas. People are smart enought to notice that, and will be angry that you think they're stupid. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

4. Know when your mike is on and when it is not. Don't mutter, don't speak under your breath, and don't gush.

5. Speak in complete sentences. Yes, I know that we often speak in sentence fragments and short bursts, that's just the way the spoken language works. But when you are trying to explain something or present an idea, use a complete sentence with a subject, a verb, and an object. Try to express a complete thought before moving on to the next one. Talking in little sound-bites that are all over the place makes people sound stupid and ill-informed, even if they are brilliant.

6. Pay attention to what your opponent says and does. At least acknowledge a personal revelation or moment of difficulty with some sort of approrpriate response. And make sure you know what sort of family history or family tragedy is involved so you don't stick your foot in your mouth. A brief moment of sympathy or a nod of understanding will go a long way.

7. Don't stare into the camera all the time, thinking it means you're 'connecting with the people', it comes off kind of scary. Look at your opponent, look at the moderator, and try not to grimace like it's painful. But also don't smile like a goofball, either. Practice in front of the mirror. Don't squint so your eyes disappear, either, especially if you have wrinkles.

8. Folksiness only works when it's real. It's easy to overdo. "Doggone", " darn it". "you betcha", "yup", "ain't", "joe six-pack" are ok once or twice, but repeated they start to sound condescending and dimwitted. Intelligent, capable people do not talk like this when addressing the electorate. We aren't afraid of big words, really.

9. Make sure you actually understand the positions of your own party and can explain them correctly. Contradicting yourself or your running made doesn't inspire confidence. If you manage to contradict yourself in only a few sentences, that's even worse.

10. Don't try to give yourself a nickname and make it stick. Everyone remembers the geeky, weird high-school kid who made up his own nickname and started to use it all the time, hoping it would catch one. It's pathetic and painfully awkward. You cannot give yourself a nickname or a catchphrase; someone else has to give it to you. Period.

Work fun

So I get a call this morning from my client, a bit hysterical. The external part of the application we built (in a web-based toolkit) for users outside of their company to access 'doesn't work". The users in the remote location "can't get in".

I have to admit I started laughing like a hyena. The system is supposed to go LIVE on Monday. This part of the app has been done since MARCH. Do you think they might have tested things, oh, I don't know, before today?

Oh, it was well tested for functionality by the internal users. But in the last nine months, no one thought to get ONE USER from outside the network to try to access the application? Really?

I read the horror stories about client projects all the time in the various technical magazines....I apparently should start writing them!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

You Betcha

The Adorable Husband says I'm very worked up. Watched part of the vp debate, but pretty much resorted to reading the transcript live instead of watching when Palin started winking and saying 'nukulur'.

Palin did much better than I expected, really. But I simply expected that she wouldn't be a complete idiot and would have been prepped well enough not to drool on herself. Biden wasn't as fiery as I have seen him before, but he was dead-on with the issues even if he wasn't as aggressive as I would have liked. Palin isn't a vp candidate, she's a game show contestant, and it showed. Biden has the chops.

But the biggest thing I cam away with? Palin failed in her job to educate the voters on her running mate's plans and issues. Biden spent a lot of time criticizing McCain and less time clarifying the issues (although he did ten times better than Palin did on issues).

Palin didn't answer the questions. She refused to go with the moderator's questions. They weren't what she'd been relentlessly drilled on, so she picked the topic and spoke on it. She had a set of memorized "speeches" that she had to get in, and she did a great job of doing that. But there was no substance there whatsoever. She was glib and managed to speak in reasonable sentences (a huge change from her crash-and-burn interviews this week), but it was just a series of cliches and fake-folksey 'you betchas'.

The fact-checking was definitely in Biden's favor - and in the end, this isn't going to change anyone's opinion. That's the purpose here - the vp candidates were supposed to sway the independent voters and while Palin managed to present herself well, she didn't have anything on the issues that wasn't a talking point directly from the campaign. Nothing new. Nothing interesting from the Republicans.

I'm sure someone was convinced. People seem to like her because she's "feisty". I don't see it.

She may have hurt McCain a bit, too -- her answers on global warming, gay marriage, and -- most notably -- the powers of the VP's office were the frantic bullshitting of someone who didn't really understand the question; the questions startled her, they didn't' match any of her carefully memorized talking points, and she boofed it. Contradictory platitudes and buzzwords.